“I am terrified most of the time”

Muhammad selling schoolbooks outside his family’s tent. 

Abubaker Abed

Thousands of children have been killed since Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza began. Many more have been wounded.

Both the physical and psychological effects of the violence are profound. Children have been forced to endure displacement, an engineered famine and the fear caused by relentless bombardment.

Muhammad is 11.

He and his family now live in a tent. It has been assembled in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza.

The family had been forced to flee the nearby Bureij refugee camp several months ago. Their home was attacked and Muhammad was injured in the head and one of his arms.

As the rooms of the home were filled with smoke, Muhammad had to jump through a window to an adjacent building.

“We really don’t know how we got out alive,” he said.

At first, the family took shelter in a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). It was located close to their home.

They only spent nine days in the school as Israeli soldiers fired repeatedly toward it from tanks. Then the Israeli forces undertook a full-scale military offensive against the camp.

Muhammad’s father is unwell and has been out of work since 7 October.

To help his family survive, Muhammad has been selling his school books and those of his siblings.

Muhammad described what has become a sadly typical day.

He got up at 7 am, washed his face and spent a little time in the sunshine. “We don’t have breakfast because we can’t afford it,” he said.

Then he helped his mother to tidy the tent and wash clothes. The family has very little access to water.

Later in the day, Muhammad piled up schoolbooks outside the tent and started to sell them. He charged approximately 30 cents for each one.

After a number of hours, Muhammad succeeded in making $5. With it, he bought two cans of tuna, some bread and duqqa – a condiment mixing nuts, herbs and spices.

“We can only have one meal a day,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have enough money even for that.”

Before sunset, Muhammad and his siblings fly kites, play games and read stories to each other.

There are 10 people in their tent. They have to share mattresses and blankets.

Muhammad often has nightmares. “I am always dreaming of Israeli soldiers killing my family,” he said.

Things do not get easier when he is awake as Muhammad fears he could be killed at any moment. He is worried, too, that Israeli soldiers could “invade our area and arrest and torture people.”

“I am terrified most of the time,” he said.

“Why do we have to go through all of this?” he asked. “We’re just children.”

Muhammad added that “I really miss playing football with my classmates and going to school every morning.”

“I hope this war will end and everything will go back to normal,” he said. “My only wish is to have peace and quiet and live with my family in our house again.”

Abubaker Abed is a journalist and translator from Deir al-Balah refugee camp in Gaza.